Monday, July 25, 2011

Why is Australia Trying to Control Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

There is a lot of misinformation floating around the blogosphere on the intentions behind Australia's recently announced climate change policy. A week ago, Stephen King listed a bunch of reasons for the policy, which does not include the true reason. And today there is a similar article on the Conversation from Paul Frijters. The real reason the government is acting is that following the Copenhagen conference in 2009 they pledged to cut emissions by 5% unconditionally. Of course, they are proposing a much more ambitious program than the opposition is because the Greens have forced them to do so. But the opposition also has a policy because they must do so to meet Australia's international obligations.

Frijter's article misinterprets what happened at Copenhagen, in my opinion, and as a result then criticizes the government's efforts to meet Australia's obligations. Though no comprehensive agreement was reached at Copenhagen, following the conference most countries in the world made pledges of what they would do to address climate change. Most developed countries including Australia made pledges to make absolute cuts in emissions. Australia promised a 5-25% reduction by 2020. The 5% reduction was unconditional on any action by other governments. So now the Australian government is trying to do what it pledged to do. The United States pledged a 17% reduction. The Obama administration is trying to address that (through EPA regulation) despite the obstruction of the Republican Party. China and India made pledges in terms of reductions in emissions intensity of GDP. India's goal was a 20-25% reduction and China's a 40-45% reduction. India's goal probably isn't much different to business as usual but China's is a real cut relative to BAU. Other developing economies made pledges to reduce emissions relative to what they would otherwise be under BAU. So it is completely wrong to assert that Australia is the only country taking action and that other countries including India will laugh at Australia.

Whether the government will meet its goal through this policy is another question. But the key thing is that after the initial 3 year period of a fixed carbon price there is planned to be a cap on carbon emissions. If the Liberals come to power under Abbott this will likely be dropped, I suppose, and even Labor may chicken out of it. But in theory this would have an impact even though not all emissions sources (but more than just electricity generation) are included.

1 comment:

  1. And good on them! in 10 years we'll all wonder what all the fuss was about